In the summer of 2016, Mike was swimming on a family holiday in Croatia when he started to feel ill. At the time, he didn’t think much of it and continued life as a dad of one, with a job as Assistant Professor of Genetics at a university in the South West.
Fast-forward to a family holiday later that summer in Spain, Mike fell ill once again, feeling sick and dizzy whenever he looked up. On the advice of his GP partner, he went to the doctors to do tests for labyrinthitis.
In the meantime, life carried on and Mike found himself travelling to Poland for a work conference where he continued to feel really sick.
“My doctor was prescribing some medication for dizziness, but my partner was concerned and encouraged me to get my symptoms checked out again. At this point, I had been feeling quite ill for some time, but it didn’t prepare me for what the tests found.”
Mike was diagnosed with an Ependymoma – a very rare type of tumour which was growing in the inner lining of his cerebrospinal cavity.
“I was completely thrown, especially hearing my doctor say that my life may be cut short by this illness. I had a young daughter, PhD students to look after, and here I was being diagnosed with a potentially life-threatening tumour.
“I met with the surgeons, one of whom was Mr Mario Teo, to look at my scans. It was, according to them, a difficult operation but I felt so ill at this point that I was keen for them to proceed as soon as possible.”
Due to the severity of his tumour, Mike was treated as a priority and was able to get an operation a matter of weeks after his diagnosis, at the end of November in 2016. The operation lasted for 14 hours – a long operation, even by neurosurgical standards.
“I remember before I went in, I said to the team, ‘please do a good job. I have a five-year-old daughter and I’m not ready to go yet’. And thanks to them, five and a half years later, I’m watching my beautiful daughter grow, I’m back to work and doing what I love.”
After five days at Southmead Hospital, Mike returned home. While he was advised he would have mobility issues, within a week he left his Zimmer frame behind; after two more, he was walking well with a stick and soon after regained full mobility.
“After I recovered as best I could from the surgery, I underwent a six-week course of radiotherapy. I still felt pretty grotty. I had short-term issues with my eyesight, which did resolve, and a loss of projection and tonal range in my voice – which as a tenor in a choir was quite hard to come to terms with. I had intensive physiotherapy, and within a year and a half I was back to driving and back to one of my life’s great loves – my hobby, singing. Five years after the operation, I was even promoted to full Professor of Genetics. My research involves searching for new cancer treatments; thanks to the treatment I received, I have been able to continue this important work.
“Every single person who looked after me at the hospital was just wonderful. From the surgeons to the nurses, to the dinner lady who got me eating again after my operations, I just can’t fault them. In a way, the operation was the beginning; it’s very much a challenge I live with every day – it’s not easy having this thing constantly on your shoulders. Yet it gave me the best possible start.”
Mike is sharing his story to tell people just how important it is, this Brain Tumour Awareness Month, to support the Neurosurgeons who saved his life at Southmead Hospital. Mr Mario Teo, the surgeon who operated on Mike, is spearheading a campaign to raise money for a world-class digital robotic microscope – which uses technology from the International Space Station – to transform the operating experience of patients like Mike.
“I cannot stress how much of a gamechanger this microscope will be for people like me. Brain surgery is one of the most difficult procedures patients can face. Reducing the side effects, the operating time and the risks is absolutely essential.
“It’s hard to put into words just how grateful I am to Mr Teo and his team for giving me the best chance at life. When I look at my daughter and my partner, my PhD students, and the world around me, I think ‘I’m still here’, and that is such a wonderful feeling. It’s a testament to the incredible team who saved my life.”
Help patients like Mike by donating to transform brain surgery in Bristol. Thank you.